More than half a million teenagers are coming to the end of the anxious wait for their GCSE results, having sat the first of the new, tougher exams in the majority of subjects.
This year, students will receive numerical grades in most subjects following changes to the system that have seen more challenging content being brought in and pupils sitting an average of 20 to 25 exam papers.
Here we explain what new grades actually stand for to help you get to grips with the changes ahead of results day, which this year falls on Thursday 23 August.
What do the new number grades mean?
The Government changed the GCSE grading system from A* to G to a numerical system 9 to 1. The top grade is a grade 9 and 1 is the lowest.
The new grading system was introduced to bring in more differentiation at the top end of the grading scale, to allow sixth forms, universities and employers to better understand what level young people are working to.
To add confusion, there are effectively two pass marks, as schools will be judged by the proportion of pupils that achieve a standard pass and above, a grade 4, as well as being held to account for the proportion of pupils that gain a ‘strong’ pass or above, known as a grade 5.
Is a 9 the same as an A*?
In a word, no. A good rule of thumb for the new grading system is a grade 7 is broadly equivalent to an A in old money, while a grade 9 is above an A*.
A grade 4 is similar to an old grade C. Relatively few students will achieve grade 9s as they will effectively be rationed.
If you have secured a boat load of grades 7s and 8s you should be very happy indeed – universities and employers consider these to be very good grades.
I have grades 4s and 5s, what does this mean?
Grade 4s are the equivalent to a grade C, while a grade 5 is roughly the same as a high grade C and close to a low B grade.
Securing these grades in English and maths means you will not be required to resit these qualifications, which was a stipulation brought in by the Government in 2015/16. If, however, you have a grade 3 you will be expected to resit these GCSEs until you pass them
Do I have the grades to get into sixth form?
It very much depends on the sixth form, but generally they do set entry requirements to continue studies onto A-level.
You should speak to the admissions officer at your preferred sixth form to check you have the grades to get in. Certain subjects often require certain grades.
Subjects such as history or languages may often set higher entry requirements to carry on and study them, but always peak to your school and the admissions officer.
Do I have the grades to get onto a vocational course?
Again it depends on what vocational course you are hoping to go on to. All courses will require you to have at least a grade 4 in English and maths. But if you fail to secure this, you will be able to resit the qualification while you are on your vocational course.
Why were the grades changed and are these GCSEs harder?
The grades were changed as part of a complete overhaul of the GCSE system, which was carried out to bring England closer in line with the top performing education jurisdictions around the world. The numerical grades allow for greater differentiation of students at the top end of the scale.
While the grading is no harder than previous years, the GCSE curriculum had more content and some of the questions in the exam papers are indeed harder.
Each exam paper has a small number of questions designed to identify students on course to gain a grade 9. The questions set for these students are far harder than those in the old GCSE exams.
As the exams are harder, the pass mark could in fact be much lower than previous years to ensure pupils are not disadvantaged compared to years before. For example, the higher level maths exam in 2017 had a pass mark of just 15 per cent.
According to a survey by the National Education Union, nearly nine-in-ten (89 per cent) teachers believe the changes in how the new GCSEs are assessed have made more students “extremely anxious and stressed”.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, iNews